Your choice: Town sets timeline for property owner to either fix home or demolish it

FIX IT OR DEMOLISH IT was the ultimatum given to Benjamin Guiliani by the Bridgton Board of Selectmen following a public hearing regarding the Willis Park Road structure. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

When Benjamin Guiliani Sr. looks at his house on 218 Willis Park Road, he admits the structure needs some work.

Selectmen, however, see the two-story house as a dangerous building.

Following a lengthy public hearing Tuesday night, selectmen decided to give Guiliani a chance to save the structure from demolition.

By a 4-0 vote, the board followed a motion by Selectman Bear Zaidman instructing Guiliani to:

  • Hire a structural engineer to evaluate the stability of the building, and file a report with the town, whether it can be repaired or whether it should be demolished. The engineer hired must be approved by the code enforcement officer.
  • The building must be secured immediately.
  • Proof of insurance must be submitted to the town.
  • If the owner fails to comply, the building will be demolished (at the owner’s expense) within 30 days.

Guiliani opened the hearing asking Baker why he felt the home should be torn down? Guiliani told selectmen that he had taken photos of other structures in town — that in his opinion — are in as poor of shape as his 218 Willis Park Road residence and should also be demolished.

Board Chairman Greg Watkins told Guiliani that selectmen’s sole focus Tuesday night was his property, no others.

As selectmen reviewed photos of Guiliani’s home, which included both interior and exterior pictures, Guiliani requested that he be given copies. He also questioned what authority Code Enforcement Officer Rob Baker had to go onto the “posted” property without “a warrant or my permission,” Guiliani said.

“No Trespassing” spray painted on the front section of the home is clearly visible from the street.

Guiliani said he built the home 31 years ago and put a lot of “sweat and tears” into it. He understands the structure requires some repair work and would be willing to do “what is asked” to avoid demolition. He added that to tear down the structure, it would cost an estimated $15,000 — which Guiliani feels would be better served being spent on repairs.

At age 70, Guiliani would like to keep the structure either to eventually reside there or use it as a camp. He blamed some of the structural problems (flooring and plumbing has been removed) on a family member who “squatted” there and caused damage. He also pointed out that he has made several trips to the transfer station to discard items left at the property, including some materials illegally dumped by unknown parties.

He questioned how the town was more than willing to tax him for the structure — which he just recently paid back taxes to remove a lien that had been placed on the property by the town — yet also claims it should be torn down.

Selectmen jumped into the conversation by asking Guiliani an array of questions including whether he is carrying insurance on the property (“No, but I can get it if you require it,” Guiliani responded), why he hadn’t cleaned up the property over the past three years (Guiliani claimed he had, but had other people dumping things there), and whether he thought someone could live in it now (“Yes,” he said).

Town Manager Bob Peabody asked Guiliani when was the last time someone “lived” at the residence? He responded, 2000.

Guiliani was asked when was the last time work was done on the house? His responded 2007.

Deputy Town Manager Georgiann Fleck noted that photos were taken of the building in 2011 and conditions hadn’t changed when compared to recent photos.

Baker believes the building could be rehabilitated. Guiliani, who noted he is a contractor by trade, said he could address various issues with the home, but would likely need some time since the property is currently “buried in snow.”

Selectmen voiced concerns regarding either children or animals accessing the building. Even though the property is posted, children might fail to see the signs and potentially encounter unsafe conditions, selectmen said.

Zaidman addressed the matter in his list of conditions, requiring Guiliani to “secure the building.”

When Guiliani questioned the time frame he was given, noting the amount of snow that remains on the property, Zaidman said he could bring in a bucket loader and open up access to the home.

Guiliani felt the conditions were extreme and potentially costly. He asked how he could appeal the selectmen’s decision? Peabody said Guiliani would need to take the matter to Superior Court.

“You’re asking too much here,” said Guiliani, who threatened to seek legal action against the town. “I’m not going to be pushed around by you guys.”

Watkins closed discussion after nearly an hour on the matter, and moved on to the next public hearing regarding the town’s proposed Land Use regulations.

In other selectmen meeting news:

New TIF agreement. Seeing the likelihood of his two businesses heading in different directions, Frank Howell has proposed to selectmen that his family’s company, Snapdragon, LLC — which currently owns the Magic Lantern Theater and Downeast Industries — and the town negotiate a new Tax Increment Financing District agreement.

Howell noted that to do “business right” in the future, he will look to sell off one of the two businesses. The Magic Lantern has been placed with a commercial broker and is on the market, Howell said.

To prepare for a sale of either the Magic Lantern or, if Howell were to shift directions and sell Downeast, each entity should have its own TIF agreement.

The TIF was agreed to in March 2006, providing the financial means for Howell to redevelop the old theater site to include a new movie house, as well as a separate structure for Downeast Industries and an expanded parking lot space.

The agreement was for 20 years. Now at the halfway point, Howell feels now is a good time to readdress it. By creating two TIFs, Howell will have the “flexibility” to address his business interests.

Selectmen asked Howell to work with the town manager and town counsel to draft a new proposal for their consideration. Once selectmen review and approve it, the matter goes to a town meeting vote. If approved, the final hurdle is to gain approval from the Maine Department of Economic Development.

18 apply. The application deadline for the Community Development Director position was March 17, and the town received 18 applications. The Interview Committee met last Thursday, and four applicants were chosen for interviews. Those interviews were scheduled for this week.

Road to recovery. Selectman Bob McHatton has returned home following surgery, and is on the road to recovery.

Floor work. The municipal complex’s front lobby area will get a facelift. County workers removed the old tile, and Waterford Tile and Company of Bridgton will install new tile in a few weeks.

In honor of Phil. Officials recognized the passing this past weekend of Phil Douglass. A longtime resident and carpenter, Phil served as chairman of the Board of Selectmen in 1986. He was one of five individuals who sought one of two seats on the board in 1985. Phil received the most votes, 338, with current selectman Bob McHatton winning the other seat with 337.

New chaplain. Pastor Mike Zullo knows that if his services are not required, it’s a good thing. However, it made it clear to town officials Tuesday night that if he can be of help in any way, he is available.

Fire Chief Steven Fay introduced Rev. Zullo as the town’s new fire/police department chaplain. Chief Fay said the local “padre” jumped into the role when firefighters responded to a fatal blaze at Pike’s Farm Apartments off South High Street.

Rev. Zullo has been the pastor at the Bridgton Alliance Church for the past 2½ years. He referred to his appointment as both an “honor and privilege” to serve the community, which he has immersed himself since his arrival. Rev. Zullo belongs to several community organizations including the Lake Region Substance Abuse Coalition and the Healthy Youth group.

License renewals. Selectmen approved victualers’ license renewals to Cheryl and Edward Balabanis of The Gazebo; Diane Medici of Sammy Scoops; Elizabeth Doonan of Beth’s Kitchen Café; and Bruce Wiley of The Village Donut Shop.

Grader replacement. Being 30 years old, the town’s grader has a serious engine issue and needs to be replaced.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder asked selectmen if money could be taken from Capital Reserve to purchase a new grader. He found a 2003 grader with just 6,700 hours of time used available from the Virginia Department of Transportation. Kidder told selectmen that the amount of time a grader is used in a year’s time is about 500 hours.

The cost is $60,000, but Kidder pointed out that a wing attachment is needed, so his request was “not to exceed $100,000” for the new grader. Selectmen approved the request, 4-0.

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